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 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

 Vol 12|No 4|December|2002
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(See copyright statement below).

Haphazardous Change:
Trusting (Foolishly) to Chance and Happenstance

by Jamie McKenzie
(about author)

© 2002, Jamie McKenzie
all rights reserved.

© 1998, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. Horse race at Chantilly.

Note: This article was previously published in the October issue of the Classroom Connect Newsletter.

If we drop five smooth stones into a pond, what do we get?

Ripples? Splashes? Subtle sounds? A distorted surface?

If we drop five networked computers into a classroom, what do we get?

Curriculum integration? Daily use? Transformation? A new digital classroom with engaged learning and constructivist practices?

Unfortunately, despite the assumptions and predictions of the Star Report ( and some vendors, in many classrooms the addition of five computers will work no miracles and will send little more than ripples through the daily life of students.


In too many cases, schools have spent most of their technology money on equipment while trusting to chance and happenstance to fuel a dramatic shift in practice.

This type of change is haphazardous, but there are other, more promising approaches to change that hold greater promise for shifts in student performance and classroom experiences.

Central to these wholesome change strategies are half a dozen elements: 1) Courtship; 2) Preparation; 3) Support; 4) Balance; 5) Discernment and 6) Pacing.

1. Courtship – Even though there is evidence from Becker (1999), Cuban (2001) and others that classroom teachers are not automatically inclined to blend the Internet and other new technologies into daily practice, the rush to network has usually occurred without much discussion of purpose and without much attention to winning over the enthusiastic participation of teachers. Districts that put horse before cart, purpose and learning ahead of technologies, stand a better chance of gaining broad-based use. Threats and directives are unlikely to gain converts. Courtship requires careful matching of program offerings and professional development with diverse teacher styles, inclinations and goals. “What’s in it for me?”

2. Preparation – Those districts that cultivate the soil by investing in lesson development and professional development well ahead of equipment are likely to see growth and change. Organizational development is more likely to produce behavior changes and results than tools and toys. Smart districts look for program strategies and curriculum rich ways of using the new tools as a way of enhancing their appeal. Some can be invented locally. Some can be purchased.

3. Support – Solo rock climbers have a high accident rate. It works the same way for teachers climbing educational mountains. Most educational audiences report a serious lack of technical and peer support – the very elements that might encourage a reluctant and late adopting teacher to take a few risks. When districts provide human support as well as carefully scaffolded unit plans that are aimed at state standards, they are likely to see a broadening of the group of committed users.

4. Balance – Successful innovations require investment in all of the elements that combine to bring about results. In the case of educational technologies, the list of key factors, often called “The Total Cost of Ownership,” would include all of the following:

  • Professional Development
  • Program Development
  • Information Resources
  • Assessment
  • Planning
  • Organizational Cultivation
  • Opportunity Costs
  • Churn
  • Support
  • Connectivity
  • Software Purchase
  • Software Renewal
  • Replacement Costs
  • Retrofitting

For definitions and examples of each of the above, see “The New TCO” at

Unfortunately, many of these costs go unrecognized, unattended and underfunded. The consequences are lamentable. Underfunding leads to underutilization. But nearly as important as funding is the orchestration of these elements – knowing when and how to bring each into play with which combinations. Far too many leaders view the introduction of new technologies as an installment task . . .

“We did technology last year. This year we’re doing literacy.”

While technologies have been around for decades, networks represent a new kind of challenge for which few leaders are prepared by either study or experience. Installation of networks is the easy part. Developing organizational capacity and inclination to make use of those networks is a much tougher challenge.

5. Discernment – Districts have been faced with hundreds of technology product choices during recent years, all clamoring for funding and attention. Because some of the companies offering these products had little experience in either business or education, they rapidly expired, leaving districts holding empty technology bags. Others made extravagant promises that have proven empty and worthless. Smart districts exercise reasonable caution and skepticism when it comes to the claims of vendors. Smart technology decisions are based on a dozen strategies:

1. Prospecting 2. Focusing
3. Challenging 4. Testing
5. Investigating 6. Comparing
7. Remembering 8. Triangulating
9. Debunking 10. Deconstructing
11. Inventing and Evaluating Locally 12. Delaying

For definitions and examples of each of the above, see “Tech Smart: Making Discerning Technology Choices” at http://

6. Pacing – There is no evidence that rushing a district through this change process leads to quality results. To the contrary, those who rush are likely to cause disruption and virtual change – the churn that undermines the daily performance of classroom teachers by increasing distractions and stress. See “Pacing Change” at http://


Becker, Henry. Internet Use by Teachers. 1999.

Cuban, Larry. Oversold and Underused. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2001. (Review)

The Star Report. CEO Forum.

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Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie.
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